It seems to be the quickest way to polarize a relationship, bring something like personal beliefs into the conversation. To be honest, I thought I was the kind of person that could be fine with others believing whatever they wanted. That is partly still true – but if I’m being honest with myself, it bothers me when I think about some of my friends subscribing to such ridiculous beliefs – even if they don’t see them as ridiculous. So, I’m forced to put it aside and forget it exists when we are together. I choose to do this because, religious differences aside, I truly value my friends and the time we spend together.
One such friend is someone I have been close to for a long time. We went to university together, met within the first week of school, and graduated 4 years later with the same degree. In third and fourth year we were roommates. Honestly, the guy is a brother to me. More than that, whenever I needed help with any subject, I could ask him. Before knowing me for four months, he spent a total of about 20 hours helping me study for a final exam that I had no chance of passing. He did this even though he also had this exam (as well as five others) to study for. What I’m saying is, he’s a great guy and he’s very smart.
So, when he came to visit this past summer, we eventually got into a religious discussion. Talks with him are always calm; and I rather enjoy that. It can be a nice change of pace from the idiotic and hateful comments you see online. Here’s the part that got me, though.
As it turns out, he’s a biblical creationist. This, as far as I can tell, is a fairly recent construct in his life. I believe that recently (within the last year or year and a half) he’s decided that god should play not just a larger roll in his life but the predominant roll. In effect, my friend believes that his decisions should always be taken with god in mind.
It was a quick 7km walk home from the bar, so we had some time to chat. He really threw me for a loop with the young-earth creationist talk specifically because of a project he gave in 3rd year university. His project was on natural nuclear reactors that had been found in Oklo, Gabon (a country in Africa).
I don’t want to get into too many specifics, but essentially, the percentage of naturally occurring uranium-235 was high enough about 2 billion years ago (3-4%) that under the right circumstances, a critical mass formed underground. Water leached in and moderated a sustainable chain reaction. The uranium would heat up and boiled off the water and the reactor would stop. Over time, water would leach in again and the process would repeat. This cycle continued for a very long time.
This natural reactor also had nuclear byproducts. These were actually contained by Mother Nature in the best method for containment scientists have ever seen. The plutonium from the reaction has moved less than 10 ft in any direction since it was created (1.5-2 billion years ago).
So, why is this relevant? It’s pretty clear-cut evidence that the earth is older than 6000 years. Not only that, but it was my friend who presented this very topic to the class. A presentation I found so interesting that I was able to cite most of the facts from memory; five years later!
His response, when I brought up the natural reactor that occurred 2 billion years ago, was to suggest the following (I’ve paraphrased):
Humans have only been studying things like half-lives for a little over 100 years. This is too short a reference to suggest they are always constant. To say that a half-life of 1-day (or some arbitrary time) will always be 1-day and has always been 1-day is wrong because we just can’t be sure about that.
So, what I gathered from this was that, in his mind, the natural reactor could have taken place in the time frame of the past 6000 years because at some point in the past, the half-life of U-235 may have been different than it is now.
All of this in spite of having earned a masters degree in nuclear engineering.
So, this is precisely the problem I have with religion. True belief demands that you forget what you know through repeatable experimentation and force your ideas to fit the biblical account. And if it doesn’t fit, well, it is ignored or it must be wrong.
Just as a side: as far as we can tell from every experiment we’ve ever performed using radiation, with nuclear reactors that have safety systems, cooling systems, and shutdown systems (pretty integral aspects) entirely based on half-life as it relates to decay heat, nuclear medicine including cancer diagnosis and treatment, etc., half-lives have been constant. This has not changed. And if we continue into the future, we will see it continue to NOT change. Unfortunately, my friend and I wont be able to have a similar conversation in another 6000 years to see if he was right after all.
So, my question to you (the reader) becomes this: Is it reasonable to suggest that our reference frame is not enough. That what we observe in the lab, time and time again, is biased to the fact that our instrumentation has only been accurate for 30 – 50 years? And is it reasonable for me to make the assumption that it is purely religion that is guiding my friend to take his position? What is there to do at this point other than avoid the issue?